Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bread and Circuses Archaeology: "Shiny Stuff Sets the Agenda"

Over on Will Anderson's "The Assemblage: political archaeology" blog is a post raising a point dear to my own heart. It's called "shiny stuff sets the agenda" and is about treasure hunting in the UK. Will makes a significant distinction, not made by many UK archaeologists:

I should say that I think antiquarianism – the documenting and collecting of things from the past for their own sake – is not archaeology. and it is nice to hear this said out loud by somebody else. No, it is not. Will is also as puzzled by the rest of us about Renfrew's odd stance:

Why is Colin Renfrew vociferous to condemn the illicit antiquities market but is comfortable with ‘responsible’ detecting?

That never has been satisfactorily explained by his Lordship. Surely if the exploitation of archaeological sites merely as a source of collectables is archaeologically bad for the archaeological record where it is legal, it is equally archaeological bad for the record if it happens to be situated beyond a line on a map which says it is legal. I really do not get his logic. For Anderson, the big archaeological paradox is that:

But though finders who swiftly report major discoveries are described as ‘responsible … exemplary’, is this responsible and exemplary archaeology? [...] In terms of expenditure, buying finds and conducting salvage digs must rank only behind building development as a public cost for ‘archaeology’. But who does it benefit? [...] Archaeologists aren’t entirely blameless [...] Why is there not more pressure to rebalance spending towards investigation of important questions about the past rather than buying shiny stuff and running around after holes dug by looters, er, I mean detectorists?

More at Portable Antiquity

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